Like everybody else, I have heard a lot about Palestine, but the place has always been in abstract to me. It was some land somewhere far far away. To me, Palestine was a country written about in the Bible but in the present day, to me Palestine was a land of the Israeli/Palestinian wars, skirmishes, fist fights and I don’t know what else.
That was my view of Palestine until I met a colleague, ‘Laura’, who was Palestinian. Officially, she used another nationality, but in everyday life, she said she was Palestinian. One day I bumped into Laura in the cafeteria and we decided to have lunch together. We started chatting and she asked me about Zambia. I responded and then asked when she was last home. She laughed and said she had never been ‘home’. I was caught off-guard and did not know what to say. I had assumed that, that – I don’t know, I guess I had assumed that everybody had been to their home country before. I felt bad for having asked a seemingly stupid and insensitive question, but fortunately Laura was very understanding.
She said her parents had been exiled to Lebanon in 1948 as pre-teens along with their families and had never returned home. Laura was the first child born in exile in both her parents’ families. Thus she been spoiled all her life and still expected things to be done for her by her family even though she was well into her fifties.
One striking thing she said, though, was that she did not feel at home anywhere expect when sitting at her desk at work. According to her, that was one place that was really ‘hers’, a place she could claim. She said she could not call Lebanon home because she did not have many rights as a Palestinian. She could not call her then country of residence where she also worked home, even though she had citizenship. She said it was because she lived there out of convenience, not choice. I really felt bad for her.
I wonder how it feels not to have a home or have had a home but was now not only living in exile but had no land to go back to. Without going into the politics of the Palestinian issue, seeing how Laura seemed to be held in abeyance was heartbreaking. I ceased seeing Palestine as a place in another galaxy, but as a place with people made of flesh and blood like everyone else. Laura really brought home the real meaning of ‘homeless’.
Those of us that can travel freely and can go to our home countries any time we want to without any problems or starting some international skirmishes are very fortunate. My chat with Laura made me appreciate Zambia so much more and count myself blessed to have a home.